Swale, the son of Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, was out of a one-eyed mare named Tuerta (Spanish for one-eyed), who was by *Forli. The nearly black colt was bred by the Hancock’s Claiborne Farm, yet even though he was campaigned under the Claiborne Farm’s ownership, he was actually owned by the partnership of Raceland Stable. Composed of Claiborne Farm, Seth Hancock’s Cherry Hill Farm, Dell Hancock, Peter M. Bryant, Edwin A. Cox, Jr., and William Haggin Perry, the group was formed to help keep the farm’s yearlings to race. The partnership was to buy the yearlings from Claiborne, with a draw to determine the silks the yearling would compete in. The first drawing had Claiborne drawing 5th, choosing Swale for the reason that Tuerta was the final stakes winner that “Bull” Hancock raced.
The colt was given the name Swale after much thought from Mrs. Wadell Hancock. Swale had the same meaning as Slew, a marshy land, as well as meaning a low place. In the wake of an incident where the youngster was thought to be missing, yet found when he was taking a nap and snoring in a well-hidden dip in the ground, the name was decided upon. It was much better than some of the other names being tossed into the ring. Many wanted the colt to be named Foghorn, due to his love of naps. Often when he would return from exercising, he would sleep so deeply and snore extremely loud, leading to the name suggestion.
Swale would receive his training by the great Woody Stephens, along with his stablemate, Devil’s Bag. Devil’s Bag was a flashy colt that went 5 for 5 at 2, earning the 2YO Male Championship. Gangly and awkward, Swale would play second fiddle Devil’s Bag during their freshman campaigns, even though he won 5 of his 7 starts, with a second and third in the other two races. Swale was a determined runner, who pulled out gritty wins following relentless stretch drives. The strong-willed colt won two Grade I races during his freshman endeavor, the Great America Stakes and the Futurity Stakes, in addition to victories in the Saratoga Special and Breeders’ Futurity.
At three, Swale emerged as a changed horse. No longer was he the awkward looking individual that graced the track during 1983. Instead he was now a serious looking athlete, put together and muscular. Making his first start of the year on March 7, Swale contested the Hutcheson Stakes, where he was the high-weight in the race. Dominating the other challengers by seven lengths, he put up the fastest time since the brilliant Spectacular Bid won the race, stopping the clock in 1:22 1/5. Ten days later the dark colt would try the Fountain of Youth, only managing a third when he hung in the stretch with no response, having displaced his palette.
On March 31, with the use of a tongue-tie and a new jockey aboard in the Florida Derby, Swale along with Laffit Pincay, Jr. dueled with Dr. Carter behind pacesetter Darn That Alarm. When they reached the 5/16th pole, the two colts would pass Darn That Alarm, carrying their battle throughout the stretch. Swale persistently dug-in, drawing away to a ¾ length victory in a time of 1:47 3/5, the quickest running since Alydar’s effort in 1978. Stephens then decided that he wanted to run the colt in the inaugural Lexington Stakes at Keeneland instead of the Blue Grass. The timing of the race set up better for the hard-running Swale, as it was 18 days prior to the Kentucky Derby, versus 9 days from the Blue Grass. Unfortunately the track turned up sloppy, and Swale was never able to get a comfortable foothold over the track, resulting in an 8 length loss to He Is A Great Deal.
Devil’s Bag who was the Winter book favorite for the 1984 Kentucky Derby, won the Forerunner Stakes and Derby Trial on his way to the big race. However, it was announced shortly after the Trial that he would not contest the Derby, instead being pointed to the Preakness. The decision led to Swale’s being made second favorite in the Run for the Roses behind the D. Wayne Lukas filly duo of Althea and Life’s Magic.
In the 110th Kentucky Derby, Swale and Pincay settled just off the lead in the field of 20, stalking pacesetter Althea throughout the backstretch and into the final turn, when they swung to the outside to begin chasing the filly down. Once the mile was passed, the duo took command, with Swale drawing away under a hand-ride from Pincay. The two coasted under the wire 3 ¼ lengths in front of Coax Me Chad, stopping the timer in 2:02 2/5. The Derby victory gave Laffit Pincay, Jr. his first win in 11 mounts. The initial plan after the Derby was to send Devil’s Bag to compete in the Preakness, however, two days after the race it was discovered that the 2YO Champ had a bone chip in his knee, leading to his retirement to Claiborne Farm. In light of the withdrawal, Swale was to go in quest of the Triple Crown.
In uncharacteristic training for the colt, his two works prior to the race were much faster than Stephens had wanted. Unsure as to whether the fast works had any bearing on his performance, or if he didn’t respond to the shorter time between races, the colt could never find his stride in the 1 3/16th mile contest, leading to his only off-the-board finish in 7th. Three weeks later in the Belmont as the favorite, Swale broke to the front, allowed to set his own pace. Unchallenged throughout, the valiant colt left the field in his dust, running away with an easy 4 length triumph in the “Test of Champions”, while giving Stephens and Pincay their third consecutive victory in the race. Sadly, Swale would never race again. Planning to let the colt have a 60 day rest, 8 days after the Belmont he returned to Stephen’s barn from an early morning gallop. The colt was his usual happy self, bouncing and playing on the way back to the barn. As they were preparing to walk him prior to his bath outside of the barn, he suddenly sat down on his hind legs. Trying to get the colt to his feet, Swale jerked his head and staggered back, sitting once again. As they tried to get a vet, he collapsed onto his side, not breathing for a minute and a half, ultimately letting out a final snort before he passed. When the vet arrived 4 minutes after he was notified, Swale was gone. His loss was shocking to all, as he never had any health issues prior to his passing. The only thing found during the autopsy were some lesions on his heart, which could have led to arrhythmia, causing a heart attack. His body was sent to Claiborne Farm, where the colt was buried whole during a farm and family funeral.
Swale’s sophomore undertaking earned him the Eclipse award for 3YO Champion Male in 1984. I love what was written about his Derby in Sports Illustrated: “Stephens had his way. Pincay rode the colt masterfully. Swale left the gate with a bounce, and he rushed with the leaders to the first turn, tucking in third behind the front-running Althea and Bear Hunt. Swale tracked them through the first half mile, Pincay sitting cool, and suddenly Bear Hunt had had enough and Swale set out to introduce himself to Althea. He chased her into the far turn like he was trying to get her phone number. He galloped up right alongside of her, as if to ask her point blank, "O.K., and what have you got?” Althea had very little. Swale had her turned inside out before they reached the middle of the turn, and once he ditched her, he was home free. As Swale took the lead, Stephens said, "He'll win by five! They'll all back up." Pincay knew he had a horse under him. "Passing the quarter pole, he felt very strong," Pincay said. "He was pricking his ears."
(Photo courtesy KDM archives)